Politics & Government

NC GOP leader raises possibility of impeaching justices over amendment ruling

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, checks his phone as he prepares for a press conference on Monday, October 16, 2017, at the Orange County Republican headquarters in Hillsborough, N.C.
Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, checks his phone as he prepares for a press conference on Monday, October 16, 2017, at the Orange County Republican headquarters in Hillsborough, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

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North Carolina constitutional amendments

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The state Republican Party executive director raised the possibility that state Supreme Court justices could be impeached if they ruled against legislative leaders in a lawsuit over constitutional amendments.

Dallas Woodhouse made the remarks at an NC Free Enterprise Foundation event Friday. In a later interview with The News & Observer, he said he wasn’t threatening the justices, but is concerned about what would happen if they rule against legislative leaders. “It would be an evisceration of separation of powers,” he said.

In separate lawsuits, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and the NAACP and an environmental group are suing to remove some of the proposed constitutional amendments the legislature placed on the fall ballot.

Cooper is suing to remove two of six amendments Republicans want on the ballot, claiming the ballot language is misleading. One would take away governors’ power to appoint members to hundreds of state boards and commissions and give it to the Legislature. The other would limit a governor’s ability to make appointments to fill judicial vacancies and give the Legislature a major role.

The NAACP and Clean Air Carolina are suing to stop those two amendments and two more.

The NC legislature is placing six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot. Here's a look at what North Carolinians will be voting on.

State Democrats said the GOP is trying to intimidate the justices.

Woodhouse’s statements dialed up the tension over the amendments and drew the Supreme Court into the debate before the cases in question even reach the high court.

In a hearing Wednesday, lawyers for Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, both Republicans, argued in a lower court hearing that the courts have no role in determining how proposed amendments appear on the ballot.

On Twitter, Woodhouse wrote “Should democrats on the Supreme Court block the people’s right to vote, we will have a constitutional crisis.”

The state Supreme Court has four Democrats and three Republicans.

In an interview, state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said the suggestion that justices would be impeached over a court ruling “is offensive and wrong and improper” and violates “everything we believe in.”

Goodwin and Woodhouse appeared together on the Free Enterprise Foundation panel. Goodwin said he told the audience after Woodhouse spoke that it had just heard Woodhouse threaten impeachment of Supreme Court justices or Court of Appeals judges over pending court cases.

“Threatening or intimidating or expressing potential retaliation for our justices and judges is offensive,” Goodwin said in an interview with The N&O Friday afternoon.

“The deliberations are still happening on this topic,” he said. “It is a matter that is pending. To suggest that the legislative branch will consider impeachment of the judicial branch, in my book, is a threat.”

Moore and Berger should say publicly whether they’ve considered impeachment as a way to control the judiciary, Goodwin said.

“I believe Democrats, Republicans, North Carolinians — all of us — need to know if North Carolina legislative leaders have discussed this,” Goodwin said. “Is this another card up their sleeve to try to tinker and tamper with our election laws?”

A spokesman for Moore said in an email that House leaders have not talked about impeaching anyone.

“Lawmakers understand that citizens are concerned about the possibility of an unprecedented court decision to block the people from deciding popular constitutional amendments for themselves, but House leaders have had no discussions about responding to such an egregious action outside of the judicial process,” Moore spokesman Joseph Kyzer wrote.

In the interview, Woodhouse said, “No legislator or anybody in authority said to me they are about to impeach judges.”

“In politics, there is always an equal and opposite reaction,” Woodhouse said in the interview. “Our activists are going to lose their mind and want something done.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner
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